Sixa opened pre-orders for a limited first run of its Rivvr Wireless VR upgrade kit. Sixa’s wireless VR solution leverages the company’s proprietary streaming technology to compress the VR signal for Wi-Fi transmission. Rivvr’s range is limited only by your Wi-Fi signal.
Wireless VR was a big theme on the CES 2017 show floor. No less than four companies showed up to the Las Vegas Convention Center with wireless solutions for VR HMDs. TPCast, which partnered with HTC to launch an officially endorsed Vive upgrade system, announced North American availability of its solution. DisplayLink revealed wireless VR technology it plans to license to HMD makers for second generation HMD designs. KwikVR announced a 5GHz wireless system that works with the Rift and the Vive and promises “less than 12ms” of additional latency. And Sixa had its Wi-Fi-based Rivvr wireless solution on hand for demos.
Sixa made bold claims about Rivvr’s capabilities that, frankly, left us a bit skeptical. Rivvr’s website states that the wireless system introduces “no latency,” is “easy to setup,” and offers “100% compatibility for all modern VR headsets,” including the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and more. Rivvr supposedly achieves this feat over a standard Wi-Fi connection, which is a hard pill to swallow. If it were possible to stream VR experiences effectively over Wi-Fi, surely the engineers at Oculus, Valve, and HTC would have figured it out by now.
We reached out to Sixa for a better explanation of the company’s technology and spoke with Mykola Minchenko, Sixa’s co-founder and CEO, to better understand how the claims about Rivvr could possibly be true. After our discussion, I’m far more convinced that Rivvr could be a dominant player in this new wireless VR kit space. Especially because Sixa has an ace up its sleeve that could leave the competition in the dust.
Real-Time Streaming Is Sixa’s Forte
Sixa is new to the VR market, but it’s no stranger to streaming data over networks. Sixa’s main business is a cloud-based desktop hosting service. You can rent a cloud-based desktop that lets you play games, edit video, or do anything else you would do with a high-end desktop or workstation system. If Sixa can stream a triple-A game experience over the internet, it should be a walk in the park to stream within a local network. Sixa’s proprietary compression algorithm allows the company to compress a raw HDMI signal, which can exceed 10Gbps, down to a 40Mbps signal that you can send over Wi-Fi without issue.
To demonstrate that the technology works as advertised, Ievgen Nechaiev, Sixa’s CTO and other co-founder, played with a Vive equipped with a Rivvr wireless kit during our Google Hangouts conversation. Nechaiev streamed the first person view of the gameplay and webcam view of himself playing Tilt Brush and Space Pirate Trainer, while Minchenko was on another webcam on the same network.
Of course, an over-the-internet streamed demo is hardly the same as experiencing the hardware for ourselves, though it did show that the Rivvr wireless system doesn’t introduce significant latency. Minchenko said that the current version of Rivvr adds 11ms of latency to the pipeline, but he expects to have the transfer down to 6ms for the retail kit.
For comparison, TPCast claimed that its system introduces as little as 2ms of latency, but TPCast’s hardware requires a line-of-sight connection. Sixa’s real-time streaming solution works over a standard 2.4GHz or 5GHz Wi-Fi connection and doesn’t require an additional transmitter. Further, because Rivvr leverages Wi-Fi, the kit’s range is limited only by your Wi-Fi signal.
VR From The Cloud?
The Rivvr wireless VR upgrade kit is just the beginning. Sixa has a grand vision that goes far beyond tether-free HMDs: The company is building a platform to remove the desktop PC from the VR hardware equation.
Minchenko explained that by combining the Rivvr hardware and Sixa’s cloud desktop technology, the company can build solutions for schools that operate up to 16 VR HMDs from one server with an enterprise level GPU. With such a system, each student in a classroom could have his or her own VR HMD connected via Wi-Fi to explore educational VR experiences from a few servers on the school’s network.
Sixa isn’t stopping at local server-based VR experiences, either. Minchenko’s ultimate vision for wireless VR includes offering a PC-free solution for people who don’t have a VR-ready machine and don’t want to invest in one. Sixa plans to expand its cloud-based desktop computer service to offer VR gaming over Rivvr-equipped headsets. Theoretically, you wouldn’t even need a computer in the house--just a Wi-Fi connection and a Vive.
Minchenko told us that Sixa could offer such a feature with the Rivvr wireless kit because it has an embedded SoC that is roughly as powerful as a Raspberry Pi Zero. The onboard processor receives the incoming stream and feeds it to the HMD. If the stream comes in without adding significant latency, it doesn’t matter if the feed originated from a server that’s 10 feet away or in the next state over.
Sixa’s VR streaming concept could open the doors to high-end virtual reality for many people. No matter how cheap VR-ready PCs become, some people don’t want a high-end (read: expensive) computer. Many people get by with a tablet or even just a smartphone. Those people may not want a PC, but VR experiences may still interest them. Sixa’s ultimate vision for Rivvr gives those people a chance to have a desktop-class VR headset and experiences without having to invest in a dedicated computer.
Compatible With Multiple HMDs
Sixa said Rivvr works with more than just the Rift and Vive. With affordable VR HMDs from Microsoft’s partners coming around the corner, an affordable, wireless, PC-free VR system may be within grasp soon. Minchenko said he isn’t working with OSVR, though, and hasn’t tested the Rivvr system with an OSVR Hacker Developer Kit.
Sixa is offering two versions of the Rivvr wireless kit. Rivvr Lite provides 3 hours of battery life and mounts to the back of the HMD’s head strap. The kit weighs 1lb, but Minchenko said the extra weight helps balance the front-heavy Vive HMD. If three hours isn’t enough playtime for you, Rivvr Plus offers an extended battery with five hours of life. The larger battery brings the weight up to 1.3lbs, but Rivvr Plus doesn’t mount to the HMD, it rests on a belt.
Minchenko said the smaller kit includes short data cables for the Vive HMD. You could also use the long cables and attach the box to your belt. The Rivvr Plus module doesn’t include shorter cables for the head mount.
Sixa launched pre-orders for the first run of Rivvr wireless VR kits todaym which is capped at 4,000 units. Minchenko explained the company is small and can’t afford to set aside more capital for a larger initial order, but he is prepared to place a second order before the first one ships to customers if the demand is there. It’s important to note that Sixa is foregoing the common crowdfunding model. The company is already committed to a 4,000-unit order, which means Rivvr is coming to market whether the batch sells out or not.
We’re reserving judgment of the technology and hardware until we’ve had a chance to try the kit out for ourselves, but on paper, Rivvr shows a lot of promise. Further, at $200 for the Rivvr Lite and $250 for the Rivvr Plus, Sixa is undercutting the competition while offering a platform with more potential. If you want to get your hands on one of the first Rivvr units, you can order one through the company’s website.